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Youth & Young People Bicycle Recycle, Earn-a-Bike Programs





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Urdu translation of this page by Samuel Badree.

This category covers a range of programs involving young people and bicycles: teaching young people cycling skills, a vocation, personal management, business management and community consciousness, and giving them self-esteem.  They also create a health habits, promoting bicycling, diverting good bicycles from the land fill and are a venue for very positive intergenerational activities.

These programs are often looking for bicycle donations, volunteers and contributions.  For the location of a youth bicycle program near you check our directory of youth bicycle programs.  (If you can't find a youth bicycle organization in your community, you should also check the programs listed on our  "community bike", "free bike", "bike library" and international recycling bicycle organizations pages.)

Starting a youth bicycle programs is often very organic -- following the passions of the organizers and the youth involved. So focus on teaching self-sufficiency through bike mechanics, some focus on foster a love of bicycling through creative organized rides and other on bike activities (i.e. BMX, bike polo, etc.) and some programs cover all of this and more. The is no one right-way to start a program, there is no magic wand, but there are many successful programs.

In the simplest case, if you have a knowledgeable volunteer and some interested young people you have the key components. From there, programs can focus on learning bike mechanics or organized rides or a mixture of the two. For a repair class participants can work on their own bikes or donated bikes can be solicited from the community.  A set of proper bicycle tools will make the project more successful.  For bike rides, if the kids don't have their own bikes and helmets, you will again have to go to the community.

If you are looking to learn more about the youth programs; how they formed, how they are organized, what they offer and to glean from there experiences, contact a few of those listed in the directory.

If you have questions or expertise about community bike programs, please join the email-based Community Bike Forum.  The discussion focuses on community bike, earn-a-bike, free-bike, bike library and other forms of cooperative bicycle programs. It provides those new to the movement an opportunity to get information that will help them along and those with experience an opportunity to share their knowledge and further expand the movement.  To subscribe send an e-mail to   Please forward this information to others who might be interested.

Directory of Youth Bicycle / Bicycle Recycling Programs

How-To Manual For Developing a Youth Bicycle Program

Liability Issues This is not specifically for bike repair focused programs, but offers a few ideas to consider.

Youth Bicycle Maintenance Program Curriculum

Suggestions for Maintaining Decorum at a Community Bike Program

Student Bicycle Essay Contest

Video suggestions

Youth Bicycle Education Network (YBEN)

  • The conventional wisdom for diverting young people who are prone to delinquency starts with keeping them active, helping them identify positive role models and giving them a purpose. A growing number of organizations are doing all of these things using bicycles. Most of this new genre of social programs are run by non-profit organizations. Young people are taught to bring dead bicycles back to life. The more established programs are now developing additional elements such as safety training, peer instruction, racing teams, overnight cycling trips, retail shops, and mobile bicycle repair clinics. The leading advocates of these programs have now formed an organization, the Youth Bicycle Education Network, to strengthen the movement.
    The network is a resource for people who work with, or would like to start, community organizations that teach young people bicycle mechanics and safety, work habits, and leadership skills. Through the network, member groups can exchange information, ideas and solutions so each program doesn't have to "re-invent the wheel". YBEN's mailing list now includes over 100 organizations across the U.S. and Canada. For information contact: YBEN c/o Recycle-A-Bicycle
    yben AT recycleabicycle DOT org
  • One problem identified by YBEN is inequities in the supply of recycled bikes in major metropolitan areas:
    Some bike recycling programs in major metro areas such as New York, Chicago, and San Francisco have to work hard at collecting enough decent bikes, especially bikes that are desirable for kids in an earn-a-bike program.  On the other hand, programs in smaller metro areas or in suburbs of San Francisco, for example, have such an enormous flow of bike donations that one of their biggest problems is how to manage 1,000 or more donated bikes per year. 
    One of the best management approaches, implemented with great success in Indianapolis, is to require a $5-10 cash donation to accompany each donated bike.  Donors are told that the cash donation is needed to support the recycling and/or education process which is labor intensive and carries a substantial cost.  Benefits of this approach include:  a) higher quality of bikes donated, since those who just want to unload rusty heaps of junk tend to be discouraged, and b) slightly smaller and more manageable stream of bike donations. However, this approach might not be desirable for the inner city program that is barely receiving enough bikes or has to solicit donations
    If you are part of an organization with too many or too few bikes you can use the Community Bike Group list (described above) to announce your situation and find solutions.
  • Andy Ruina of RIB Ithaca makes the following observations from his involvement from 1991-96:
    1) There is a huge shortage of adults (people over say 16) who are responsible and patient and willing to be involved in  a program like this over a period of years.  Forget the bike skills, that's a minor perk.  If you had a shop with, say, 5 good adults working each with 5 kids then you could keep things going well even if the adults knew nothing at the start.
    2) Most of the donated bikes you will get were not good bikes when they were new.  Fixing them up with scrap parts requires skills different than what most bike mechanics know.  So again, bike mechanics knowledge is not the precious commodity, ironically. We once had an add in the local paper that read something like "Bike mechanics needed, no experience necessary" that the guys in the local bike shop thought was a hoot. But its really true that patience and commitment are far more valuable than any skill base.
    3) Piles of bikes are a pain.  A huge part of the bike work is just triage.  Decide what parts you are short of, like
      a) good rear derailleurs
      b) good rear wheels and which ones you don't need more of, like
      c) mediocre front wheels
      d) mediocre 26 inch tires.
    You should, I think, make those piles disappear at the start.  Decide how many bikes you can improve and the rest prepare for metal recycling, or if you can hook up with Bikes not Bombs,  or Wheels of Love, or Pedals for Progress, get some of those second rate bikes ready for overseas shipment.
    4) Recycling is not efficient.  If you value your time and your volunteers time and count the value of the donated space etc.  Then compare that to the market value of the bikes you turn out you will see it would be cheaper to give people money to buy bikes at K-Mart.   So don't think about the program as actually being efficient, it can't be.  All in all, counting all the clean up, organization, sorting of bad donations, you can't get bikes out for less than 5 to 10 hours per bike, often more.  That just can't compete with $100 new bikes.
    So you have to think of the program as one that involves people, and learning skills.  Not useful bike-repair skills especially, but things like:
       a) clean up after work,
       b) be patient,
       c) most things come loose with counter-clockwise rotations,
       d) its easier to work if tools are where you look for them, etc.
    5) Organized tools are a huge help!!!!  We went years without and then got organized.  What a difference.  Each tool board has a color.  Every tool on that board has the same color marked on it.  Every tool has a marked place on the board.  At a glance you can see what tools are missing from what boards.  Every person who starts work has a complete board and is told to end with a complete board.   When we did this our rate of tool loss (theft, accidental trashing, mixed in with bike parts, etc) went down by about a factor of 10.  Meanwhile, the pain in the neck time of looking or waiting for a tool went to zero. The RIBs WWW page has some pictures of our tool boards which I think are good.

Earning A Bike With Community Service

Gloria Butler, the property manager of a subsidized housing complex in western Anne Arundel County, MD, USA, had the idea of engaging young children to perform community service and rewarding their efforts with bicycles.
With the help of the county's Western District police station, the program has been able to give these hard-working children about 20 bicycles.
Ms. Butler organizes the activities - ranging from planting flowers to helping adults prepare for community events -- and keeps track of the children's hours. The police station uses its own discretionary fund to purchase new bikes or to pay for repairs to used bikes recovered by police. The police also pay for the purchase of locks, helmets and water bottles that are also given to the children.
The genius of the program is that these young children learn diligence pays off in different ways. Meanwhile, many of these children are getting bikes for the first time. (Baltimore Sun, 1/7/97)

Get Out Spoke'n

Those of you interested in Bikes and Schools should check out Get Out Spoke'n.

Get Out Spoke'n is a two-year national campaign by young people, ages 10-16, to reduce air pollution and traffic congestion by making their communities safer and easier for bicycle transportation.

The campaign starts officially in September 1998 and will involve at least 100,000 young people and 4,000 educators and adult leaders.

Get Out Spoke'n is all about young people working to improve their communities. Educators and adult leaders help them identify a problem and give them the right tools and knowledge to address it. The campaign teaches young people how to collect information and network with local groups, empowering them to make a difference in their communities and nationally through their collective efforts.

Goals of Get Out Spoke'n:
Urge local governments to adopt pro-bike policies, create bike advisory committees with youth representation, and plan ways to make their communities more bike friendly.

Make schools bike friendly. Encourage local schools to create policies that permit and encourage students to ride their bikes to school and provide secure parking for bicycles.

Develop public awareness. Make local citizens aware of existing bike plans and needs, and rally the public to help make the community more bike friendly.

Increase safety for bike riders and security for bikes. Get organizations to conduct safety clinics and bike theft  prevention clinics. Encourage communities to implement cops on bikes programs.

Survey, plan and map bike routes that serve youth transportation needs in the community. Mobilize a show of support for biking. Organize bike-to-school rides during National Bike Month and have your school adopt a proclamation to endorse every May as Bike to School month.  (Sept 1998)



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